Most truckers can have a drink, flip through the pages of a girlie magazine or roll dice and stay completely in control of their behavior. But for the unlucky few, those diversions become addictions that control their lives.
Most truckers can have a drink, flip through the pages of a girlie magazine or roll dice and stay completely in control of their behavior. But for the unlucky few, those diversions become addictions that control their lives. The often-solitary trucking lifestyle, with its stretches of inactivity and monotony, can make the life of an addicted trucker one plagued by seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
This month Truckers News looks at addictions to pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling and cigarettes; the effects they have had on drivers and their families; steps some have taken to overcome them; and avenues of help for those who still struggle.
At the height of trucker Tom Buford’s career, he had a job the envy of many drivers. A regular driver on the tours of music legends like Johnny and June Cash, Buck White, John Waite, UB40 and Twisted Sister, he rubbed elbows with the rich and famous and was paid well for his efforts.
But Buford also had a problem. When life on the road slowed down, the Nashville driver slinked off to feed an addiction that was spiraling out of control. When he hit bottom, Buford found himself in a pit of indescribable misery – a place so dark, so filled with danger, loss and fear that he didn’t know if he’d ever recover. “I didn’t recognize the stranger in the mirror,” he says.
Life on the road has always been difficult, but for truckers dealing with addiction – whether to pornography as Buford was or to something else – long days and nights in the cab or at truckstops, waiting, alone, on nearly empty parking lots and loading docks can support a habit and make recovery more difficult. Trucking doesn’t create an addiction – many careers have substantial numbers of addicts among their practitioners. But the stress, loneliness, lack of accountability and boredom so common to the profession make it easer for an addiction to take root and grow, say recovering addicts and experts on addiction.
The roots of addiction
The key to understanding addiction begins with an understanding of how the chemical processes in the brain work. “All things that are pleasurable – for example, eating, sex, gambling, cocaine and alcohol – trigger a release of [the chemical] dopamine in the brain,” says Dr. Leslie Lundt, a psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist. “This began as a way to continue our species; if something feels good, you are more likely to continue the behavior. The problem comes in when ‘normal’ things just don’t cut it anymore. So patients are searching for the ‘hit’ that floods the brain pathways.”
For Dave Thomas, a Tennessee trucker who hauls for pharmacy chain Walgreens, gambling produced his extra dose of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which affects the brain processes that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. It started with quarters and card games in childhood before escalating to scratch-off lottery tickets and eventually horse racing. Each time, the stakes rose to meet his growing addiction, ultimately costing him more than $100,000 and decades of his life.
“I tried it all,” Thomas says. “Drugs and alcohol just wasn’t my taste. But when I hear bells ring and hooves scraping on the ground